By Carmen Gentile
Protesters carry rifles near the steps of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., on April 15. Flag-waving, honking protesters drove past the Michigan Capitol to show their displeasure with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's orders to keep people at home and businesses locked during the new coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. Paul Sancya/AP
Angry and armed protestors shout down authorities and call for the imprisonment of a democratically elected leader.
In a neighboring state, another irate gathering is marching on a capitol and demanding change, or else.
I’ve seen episodes like these while reporting on conflict and unrest in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, and elsewhere.
But I never expect to see it in Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky, as we have in recent days. Protesters furious with the shutdown orders and social distancing, some waving Trump flags and others bearing swastikas.
For years I kept one eye on the hysteria and extremism that’s been brewing in America while I covered atrocities half a world away.
Now that I spend more time in the states covering the Rust Belt and Appalachia, I must admit: I’m more afraid now than I ever was in a war zone.
Let me be clear: I’m not afraid of being killed in a gun battle or bombing on American soil, although by the looks of some of those protesters with the semi-automatic, military-style weapons, they appear to be itching for armed insurrection. They may just be waiting for some supreme conspiracy theorist, like QAnon or the president, to give them the green light.
Warzone deaths, while horrible, can at least be instantaneous and painless.
Nowadays, I’m afraid that America’s demise, (not to mention my own), will be slow, agonizing and too much to bear.
The last four-plus years of U.S. happenings have been fraught with the kind of antiintellectualism and hatred of “outsiders” I’ve seen peddled by inept, tinpot dictators the world over and those with cruel acumen to sustain their tyrannical rules.
I’ve seen some of what’s playing out in America in countries riddled with bullet holes and craters where suicide bombers drove into a crowded market. Before they were destroyed, some of them were pretty nice, stable places.
I’m afraid this hatred of reason and logic that pervades Trump’s daily televised rallies from the White House is just the beginning of our slow painful decay into one of those nations that “once was” much more than it is now.
I’m afraid this country’s decline into economic shambles will drive some to act on their darkest instincts.
I’m afraid too many people still think it “can never happen here” even though I assure them it already is.
I’m afraid that as an American, I will be persona non grata around the world for months or years to come because my country is struggling to contain the virus, which brings me to my greatest fear.
My 3-year-old daughter Francesca, is in Croatia, where I split my time. I was looking forward to being with her again. Then, last month my flight was canceled. until my flight was cancelled last month.
Every day I video chat with her and her mother. But it’s no substitute for being there and hugging my daughter. Instead, I watch from afar as her hair gets longer, her drawings get better and her reading improves. I also watch her endure this hardship without her daddy.
Now, Croatian leaders are saying they won’t accept people from countries, like say the United States, to keep their own infection rate low.
I’m afraid I may not be with my little girl for a very long time.
That’s what scares me the most.
Postindustrial founder Carmen Gentile has worked for some of the world’s leading publications and news outlets including The New York Times, USA Today, CBS News and others. His book, “Blindsided by the Taliban,” documents his life as a war reporter and the aftermath of his brush with death after being shot with a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.